India’s Space Diplomacy: Building Space Station in Vietnam for ASEAN

 By Shivangi Dikshit
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Space is now an emerging avenue for countries to compete and build their dominance through cooperation and competition in space. Superiority in space technology brings international attention, creates opportunities to build and expand relations as well as achieve national interests. India’s advanced space programs have allowed it to cooperate with its strategic partners and meet foreign policy goals of developing influence and goodwill.[1]  India as a part of its space co-operation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be building a ground space station in Vietnam. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated the idea of building a ground station in Vietnam at the India-ASEAN meeting at Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar.[2]

The proposed facility will be established on four hector land in My Phuoc-3 industrial park in Binh Doung province, Vietnam. An 11m antenna will be installed by the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC). The ISTRAC provides support of the TTC ground stations, communications network between ground stations and control centre, control centre including computers, storage, data network and control room facilities, and the support of Indian Space Science Data Center (ISSDC) for the mission.[3]

The facility will include an antenna support structure spread across 75-sqm, a facility building in 1,235-sqm. The objective of the program is to provide remote sensing over the ASEAN members like Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Once operational it will allow India to enhance the tracking network. ISRO is pursuing a proposal to support ASEAN countries to receive and process data from Indian remote sensing satellites (RESOURCESAT-2 and OCEANSAT-2) and also to provide training in space science, technology and applications.[4] In India, we have ground stations in Bengaluru, Lucknow, Sriharikota, Thiruvananthapuram and Port Blair. India also has network ground stations outside the country in Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia in Southeast Asia and South Asian country, Mauritius[5] ISRO has also build the India-Myanmar Centre was established in 2001 for remote sensing.[6] 

Space cooperation with ASEAN nations like Vietnam will allow India to utilize data from these ground stations to monitor its satellite facilities. It is said to help India’s Gaganyaan mission as ISRO wants to have its coverage for at least 90% of the flight path and depend as little on other tracking stations.[7] ISRO will link up the station in Vietnam with other stations like the Biakin in Indonesia.[8] Vietnam will have full and direct access to data from this station without any permission from India. It will also allow ASEAN members to receive data that can be utilized for various purposes of ocean surveillance, resource management, environment managing. Cooperation in space will allow India and its ASEAN partners to monitor activities of assertive powers in the South China Sea. Space cooperation with Vietnam indicates that both nations want to enhance security relations. This will help both India and ASEAN members to modernize their military capabilities. These ties will make China uncomfortable who has disputes with both India and Vietnam. 

Space Diplomacy: Instrument of Foreign Policy 

The initiative to establish a ground station in Vietnam will provide a boost to the Act East Policy (AEP) of India, where India expand its relations and advances in its national interests by cooperating with the cooperation of like-minded countries in Southeast Asia. In April 2021, India told the United Nations Security Council that its vision of the Indo-Pacific as a free, open and inclusive region is premised upon ASEAN centrality and the common pursuit of prosperity, as it called for coordinated and concerted action across borders to combat contemporary security challenges of terrorism, radicalization and organised crime.[9] Space cooperation is a big way through which India can assure ASEAN Centrality in its AEP and its Indo-Pacific Strategy. As India withdrew from Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), it has caused a setback to its AEP but space cooperation is an area where India should cooperate with the ASEAN members to assure that ASEAN remains in centre of India’s Indo-Pacific strategies. 

India is expanding its space cooperation with the QUAD members as well, therefore the country can act as a link between its QUAD allies and ASEAN partners in developing space cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. It will be able to counter countries that are exercising their hegemony in the region. Cooperation with the region in space-related programs will allow India to not just counter major powers hegemony but also create its unique position in the region. Space cooperation with ASEAN will give India a chance to offer a distinct area of cooperation where it has a superiority over the regional and external countries present in Southeast Asia. 

As many developing countries struggle to develop space-related programs, India offers a cost-effective alternative for developing countries to establish space-related programs such as to launch satellites into space, by this means taking them a step closer to India. Indian satellite data is extensively exchanged with friendly countries for astronomical research that fosters goodwill and improves bilateral relations of India and projects its soft power. India is a member of several international and regional organizations to promote space cooperation, joining with the Indian space program will allow the ASEAN members to unite with agencies working on space cooperation and can create business opportunities for themselves.

Space cooperation with India will provide the ASEAN countries to strike a balance between developing its technology and at the same time assure the welfare of its citizens. The cooperation in cost-effective space technology can be put to good use to achieve technological advancement and promote the welfare of society. The ASEAN members are prone to natural disasters, hence, usage of space technology in these areas will permit them to prevent and prepare for natural calamities. Therefore, cost-effective space cooperation with India is a valuable engagement for ASEAN members. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, lists Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure as important goals. Indian space technology has the advantage of being cost-effective and delivering high performance. Efforts to utilize space technology in areas such as infrastructure, disaster management and security can improve the lives of the citizens and improve the government welfare programmes run in Southeast Asia.

Challenges and Opportunities for India’s Space Diplomacy

However, there are a few challenges to India’s objectives in space exploration and its developing space diplomacy. As space diplomacy is rising the number of countries in space is also increasing, creating competition for resources on earth and in space. There are no strong international treaties to assure peaceful exploration of space, hence, there is a lack of a strong mechanism to prevent illegitimate activities in space. The weaponization of space is a well-known threat that can further promote rivalry for space dominance. Another major challenge for India would be to strike a good balance between its space-related programs and providing basic needs to its citizens.

Since the beginning of the Cold war and at the present Post-Col War times being ahead in space is a way to dominate and project power. India has made its place in this race, the country is using its space programs to advance its economy, modernize security apparatus and the project itself rising power. At present, there is a race among the major powers of who will get first in space exploration but India should focus on providing a cost-effective alternative. As India has achieved excellence in developing cost-effective space programs it should open its doors for developing countries and share space technology for potential commercial benefits. It will bolster diplomatic influence and benefit both India and its partners. India must use its space diplomacy to accommodate domestic development with the needs of neighbouring countries. 

Endnotes: 

[1]Namrata Goswami, ‘India’s Space Cooperation With the US – and the Quad – Intensifies’, The Diplomat, 17 May 2019, Accessible at  https://thediplomat.com/2017/05/china-and-indias-diplomatic-space-race/ 

[2]Tulika Tandon, ‘Mega ISRO Ground Station in Vietnam for ASEAN Countries: Space Diplomacy of India’, 6 July 2021, Accessible at  https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/mega-isro-ground-station-in-vietnam-for-asean-countries-space-diplomacy-of-india-1625569955-1 

[3]Indian Defence News, ‘Mega ISRO Ground Station in Vietnam for ASEAN Countries: Space Diplomacy of India’ 7 July 2021, Accessible at http://www.indiandefensenews.in/2021/07/mega-isro-ground-station-in-vietnam-for.html 

[4]Ministry of External Affairs, ‘ISRO mulls plan to offer data support to ASEAN nations’, 5 April 2018, Accessible at https://indbiz.gov.in/isro-mulls-plan-to-offer-data-support-to-asean-nations/ 

[5]The Commune, ‘ISRO to build ground station in Vietnam under Look East policy to help ASEAN countries’ 7 July 2021, Accessible at https://thecommunemag.com/isro-to-build-ground-station-in-vietnam-under-look-east-policy-to-help-asean-countries/ 

[6]‘India, Myanmar jointly set up remote sensing centre’, 15 February 2001, Accessible at https://www.burmalibrary.org/reg.burma/archives/200102/msg00040.html?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=pmd_f66bd09ce375df5e3a149307609e64df5ad78adc-1627628686-0-gqNtZGzNAfijcnBszQa6 

[7]Chethan Kumar, ‘Space Diplomacy: India building ground station for ASEAN countries in Vietnam’ 2 July 2021, Accessible at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/space-diplomacy-india-building-ground-station-for-asean-countries-in-vietnam/articleshow/84066043.cms

[8]Ibid. 

[9]The Economics Times, ‘India’s vision of Indo-Pacific as free and open, inclusive, region premised upon ASEAN Centrality: EMA’, 19 April 2021, Accessible at  https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/indias-vision-of-indo-pacific-as-free-open-inclusive-region-premised-upon-asean-centrality-eam/articleshow/82147731.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst